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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Olympics? Don’t Hold Your Breath

If you had dreams of NHL players going to the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Gary Bettman likely just tinkled in your Corn Flakes.

The NHL’s Commissioner spoke at the Sport Business Summit in New York today and told reporters that “People should assume we are not going (to the Olympics).”

The news sent shockwaves through social media as many Canadian hockey fans were hoping for a three-peat on the men’s side, a goal that seems unlikely to happen if you take Bettman at his word.

According to Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner since February of 1993, the league last met with the IOC to discuss an Olympic future back in February but, apparently, no progress was made and no future meetings are scheduled. According to ol’ Gary:

“There are no negotiations ongoing. We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance.”

The NHL’s beef seems to stem with shutting the league down for two weeks so close to the playoffs, a concern that is amplified by the potential for injuries to some of the league’s best players. From a league perspective, having guys like John Tavares go down for the remainder of the season as a result of an Olympic injury is a problem but, to play devil’s advocate, we’ve also seen guys go down from eating pancakes. Injuries happen and unless we wrap the world in bubble wrap (let’s get some costing on this idea) then there’s not much we can do about them – Olympics or not.

What else did Bettman say?

“The point is I was trying to emphasize the fact that this is terribly disruptive to our business and there seems to be no offsetting way to mitigate that disruption”

Basically what that tells me is that the bigger issue is the fact that the NHL misses out on the cash generated by their athletes that play in the games. Are they worried about players getting hurt? Totally. Are they way more worried about missing out on some mad scratch? Hell yeah, they are.

It was widely reported that the NHL is seeking a ‘Top Sponsor’ status that would allow the league to market (read: cash in on) the games themselves. When you combine missing out on that kind of cake alongside paying for the insurance and transportation for the players to attend the event then you’ve got a recipe for an unhappy ownership group, a group represented by Bettman.

“When the IOC comes to us and says, by the way, we know it will cost $15 to $20 million to send your players between insurance, charter costs and accommodations for the players. Well… we’re not going to pay for that. If they don’t value our participation (then) why are we going?”

For hockey fans everywhere, this news came down like a heel kick to the nuts. Having NHLers participate at the Olympics created some of the most memorable and uniting hockey moments that any of us have ever experienced. If the NHL has their way, those memories could be all that we have to hang on to. Unless, of course, you’re going to be into watching an Olympic version of the Spengler Cup.

  • Furgantilese_Gus

    I agree with the masses that want to see NHL talent in the Olympics. Seems fair to ask them to handle some of the expenses though. The random cross country skier from Norway, who does get funding from his country’s Olympic Committee still has to foot some of the expenses personally. Why should NHLers be different? They can pay their transportation costs, Olympic Committees and professional leagues (or teams) can split the insurance costs and give respective teams/leagues a piece of the marketing revenue commensurate to the insurance costs. Seems simple-ish?

  • OriginalPouzar

    I am hoping this is more posturing by Betman on behalf of the board of governors and the NHL ownership as I’ll be very disapointed if they don’t get to go.

    I see the NHL’s point though – there is really is almost no benefit for them to allow their players to go. The only benefit is to keep the players happy as they want to go – the players are the league.

    • GinYCC

      There is a huge benefit to the NHL to let their players go. World wide marketing of their product on the biggest sporting stage the world has. If the NHL wants to grow its business on a global scale, this is the best way to do it. I believe the NHL knows this, and this is all just posturing to squeeze a few short term dollars out of the IOC. The IOC also knows this so why would they pay to let the NHL market itself on their platform?

      NHL players will be there. Everyone wants it, the NHL, the IOC, the players, and the fans. We just have to put up with lawyer talk for a while before it’s announced.

  • CRONENBERG

    I probably would have become a fan of the NHL either way, but the 2002 olympics is why I fell in love with hockey. I was 12 years old, and up until then I didn’t care about hockey. In fact, I thought it was stupid. I guess I was just being a dumb kid that wanted to be on the contrary of what is popular. My dad told me we were going to my uncles to watch the gold medal game and I remember fighting with him the whole way because I didn’t want to go. But it ended up being one of the best memories I have. All those star players (names even I had heard of) winning gold, fuelling my national sense of rivalry with the States; it’s what turned me onto hockey. 2006 playoff run is what turned me into an avid-can’t-miss-a-single-game follower. Letting the best players go and compete with each other is what creates fans. The NHL is advertising their talent on a world-wide scale.

    • Yaz

      The Olympics are great but I shudder to think about McDavid or one of our heroes breaking a leg or suffering a season or career ending injury. The IOC are far worse than the NHL and Bettman, they want the best but offer nothing in return. IMHO return it to an amatuer event and move on

  • Shredder

    Let’s be realistic here, the World Cup was a success, and it’ll be an even bigger success if it doesn’t have to compete with the Olympics. The world wants to see best vs. best, and the World Cup is a way for the NHL to get that money. I don’t see why the NHL would even consider the Olympics when they have their own thing going that they like better, makes them more money, and when the Olympics has too many costs and too many liabilities. It’s not going to happen, which is too bad because I’m a big fan of Olympic hockey.

    So I guess we’ll see what CHL’ers can do vs. KHL’ers. Should be interesting.

  • A-Mc

    As a fan, i really want the nhl at the Olympics. It is the only time i can embrace the awesome hockey talent canada has.

    There are likely a lot of details and metrics that can make or break this deal that fans arent privy to, so i cant side one way or the other…but i do hope they sort it out so that we can see connor in a canada jersey representing at the olympics.

  • madjam

    Public pressure on NHL , and money , might make them reconsider current stance . Doubt public pressure will be all that high , as might the dollar value , etc. to the NHL . I’ll watch Olympics whether or not NHL players are involved , just won’t enjoy hockey in Olympics as much .

    • Sammy D

      His job is to look out for the best interests of the owners, who hired him to be the commissioner. He’s doing that. As a fan I may disagree with a lot of (most of? all of?) what he says, but as an owner I would be extremely happy with what he has done to make me more $$$.

  • Explicit

    Olympic hockey is easily the most entertaining hockey. Guys dream about winning Olympic gold and it’s a shame that the NHL lets greed and money get in the way of that.

    I understand it’s business, but it’s also a national past time.

  • Pouzar99

    This is why the fans and players despise Bettman and the owners. They don’t give a crap about the fans except for the dollars they directly provide. This fall’s World Cup was a dud. The young NA’s were the only intersting part of it. I concede that the IOC are being jerks and that they should at least allow the NHL some control over the marketing of the hockey competition, but fans and players want best-on-best hockey on the world stage. Think of all the memories from the five hockey competitions since all pros were allowed in. The most popular game in the world, football, not only makes room for international competition, it also allows for many, many qualifying games just to get there, and every continent has tournaments in between World Cups, like the African Cup of Nations and the European Championships. For once, let’s do what’s right for the fans and the players. Ted Leonis has already accepted Ovi is going, time for Crosby to demand the best Canadian players get to go as well.

  • DXB

    Why don’t we ask the players what they want to do. They have short career windows and the opportunity to be olympians is likely a big deal for them. They have a union, if they want to play the union should be able to make it happen regardless of what is best for Bettman.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    What folks may be forgetting here is that Bettman is a professional negotiator and the folks running the Olympics – uhm – not so much. Sounds like a ball is being dropped by someone and discussions have lapsed… this is most likely Bettman’s method of firing a shot across their bow to let them know it’s important to pick up the phone.

    I wouldn’t count out a deal being struck yet. Doesn’t sound as though the league is asking for too much here. The sides probably aren’t as far apart as Bettman makes it sound. (Exaggerating the differences = another classic negotiating ploy.)

    He’s a slimy turd but I respect the guy for being good at what he does.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    My previous post all being said – this is also a smart announcement from Bettman cause he knows most people want the NHL at the Olympics… without them you can’t really say you have the best men’s hockey players in the world competing. However by being open about it now there’s lots of time for it to soak in and for people to absorb the fact just in case a deal can’t be worked out.

    Then if a deal is magically reached before it’s too late, Suddenly everyone looks like heroes.

  • paul wodehouse

    … I’m as happy as can be …especially when the sites for these 2018 Olympics AND 2022 are in easy ICBM range for the North Korean maniac to start up the End of Days … glad to see the PROS are staying where they belong…no more BS Olympic Break …my perfect world best case scenario? …make Canada the site for ALL future Winter Olympics period…

  • I think solutions to a number of problems could be found with enough political will, but the optics aren’t looking too good for the NHL despite the fact that the IOC likely bears some responsibility as well.

    If the IOC doesn’t allow the NHL to fully capitalize on their players going to the Olympics, it gives the NHL little incentive to make things happen.

    But the NHL isn’t communicating this very clearly, so fans will be taking things out on them.

    The World Cup will never be a replacement for a multitude of reasons, and so I really think all parties need to think this through. I’d be interested to see how the tv ratings rank for each event, and how hockey compares. Can the IOC afford a general lack of interest in a marquee event?

  • El Connor mcdaddy

    the Olympics are meant for the best athletes in the world. in the case of our sport the best happen to be in another league, shutting down the league for the Olympic break has never been an issue before, and the Olympic break would be better for the players and the fans then the bi week we have now. In other winter sports they send the best athletes, by “amateur” athlete they mean they don’t get paid by the Olympics. they don’t send a bunch of “B” league skiers to do skiing events and the same should go for hockey, i want to see the best play the best. And the NHLers want to play in the Olympics just as bad as we want to see them there, and I’m sure players would pay there way to the Olympics for a chance to play for the country on the Olympic stage.

    • Keepyourstickontheice

      I am against this for two reasons. 1) They would still be disagreeing about money, both insurance and advertising related.
      2) Hockey in the summer? It’d be nice to be in a nice cold rink during the summer, but the Olympics would be against anything that weakens the already less well attended winter Olympics. A move like this might mean speed skating and other indoor winter sports that could be played in summer might move too.